Julian Stewart has an astonishing memory for detail. Remembering full names, precise dates and to-the-cent prices from the past, Stewart is also able to recall his first-ever memory.
It is of him holding a toy car in his hands when he was three or four years old in wartime England. It was a model of the Chrysler Airflow, a streamlined vehicle – futuristic for its time – that Stewart found unique and different looking than the other cars he saw driving around London.
Perhaps it was this memory that, decades later, moved him to purchase a new 1967 Volkswagen Beetle – its shape reminding him of his toy Airflow – from a dealership in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood. While he originally had no intention of buying the vehicle, a little bit of pushing from a determined salesperson sealed the deal and has led to decades of additional memories.
Stewart tells us why he loves his Volkswagen Beetle.
“It was 1967, and I was new to Canada,” said Stewart. “My brother had bought his own Beetle from Willowdale Volkswagen, which used to be on Yonge Street north of Highway 401. I went there with him one day for an oil change and a grease up – that cost $3 at the time if you can believe it.
“I didn’t have a car and had just gotten a job at the airport. When the salesman found that out his eyes lit up. I told him that although I was looking, there was no way I was buying a Beetle. I had no money, and they were way too small. My girlfriend (now my wife) and I took one of the Beetles on the lot out for a ride to get him off our back. He was insistent.
“When we got back from our spin, he asked me what colour I wanted. I said, ‘No. I have no money.’ He replied that I must have some. I pulled out five dollars in bills and quarters and plunked it on the counter as a joke. He then said – and I kid you not – ‘Great, that’s enough.’
“So, I purchased this thing for $5 down, I’ve got the actual bill of sales. All together it was about $2,300. It was $1,900 for the car plus $100 the sunroof, $15 for the undercoating and $18 for the Blaupunkt radio.
“Since that time, the car has gone everywhere. One of the first things we did was drive it to Expo ’67 in Montreal. It’s brought both my children, who are now in their 40s, home from the hospital. It drove me backwards and forwards to work, which incidentally was a model car business that my wife and I owned named Durham Classics. The first model I created by hand as part of that business was a Chrysler Airflow.
The years have gone by, and the Beetle is now 55 years old. I’ve put some dollars into it to make sure it still works well, and you can see it’s pretty immaculate. But, at this point, given all it has done for me, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It holds a lot of history. Cars come and go, but this vehicle is irreplaceable.
A CLOSER LOOK:
1967 Volkswagen Beetle
“One thing that’s unusual about this car are the skirts on the wheels, which I added,” said Stewart. “They were a Volkswagen option, but I added them myself later. The skirts are usually made from metal, but these are fibreglass. I painted them to match the car and, honestly, I put them on because with them the Beetle looks more like a Chrysler Airflow – the car that I played with as a boy.”
“Back in its day, the car came with what’s called an Eberspaecher
: a gasoline heater,” he said. “Usually, water from a car’s engine circulates around the heater and the hot air is blown to warm you. That’s not the case with this vehicle. The Eberspaecher
takes gas, burns it and blows out the hot air. The downside is that the heater gets so hot it could melt plastic — not great when you have personal items in the boot (trunk) of the car. And speaking of danger, this is the very first year that the Volkswagen Beetle had seatbelts. Before 1967 they were sold with nothing at all.”
“Typically, when it comes to washing your windows, a car has an electric pump that squirts water up the windows. The 1967 Beetle doesn’t have that. What they did is took the spare wheel and ran a little pipe from it. They then put that through a little valve and pressurized the washer tank. When you press the button on the dash it releases a little bit of air out of the tire and blows the washer fluid up on the windshield.”
This article was edited for space and clarity. Want to be featured in Why
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